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Shape your financial future by checking your credit report and scores

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Updated: 1/25/2013 10:31 am

(BPT) - Do you know what's on your credit report? Do you know your credit scores? If you don't, you're not alone, but now is a good time to better understand how they work before you go apply for that loan. By waiting to check your report and scores until you want to buy a car or house, you may discover too late your financial history forces you into strict loan terms with high interest rates, or, worse, disqualify you from getting any loan at all. How can you avoid this situation?

Responsible past credit behavior, a healthy credit score and understanding your debt picture all play crucial roles in achieving your overall financial goals. So reviewing your credit report and knowing your VantageScore credit score and how you compare to others is essential. By reviewing your report, you can verify the information in it, and take actions to correct any item that may require it. If you have any negative marks, now is the time to take action to address those issues and increase your credit score.

Perhaps the biggest misconception about credit scoring is that all the three major credit bureaus - TransUnion, Equifax and Experian - produce the same score. Although similar, there are many different scoring formulas, so variations can occur.

The three major credit bureaus partnered to develop VantageScore credit score to make credit scores more consistent and predictable across all three credit bureaus.

VantageScore credit scores fall within a range of 501 to 990 and include a letter grade from A to F - . the higher your score, the better. Even though new methods provide more consistent formulas, there may still be variations across the three credit bureaus because information on individual credit reports may differ from bureau to bureau. Furthermore, each company is provided updated information from creditors on different days of the month, so an increase or decrease for one might happen on the first day of the month while another may not occur until the 15th.

These differentiators are why it's important to know all three of your scores, which you can easily get with a paid TransUnion membership. If you find the scores you have are lower than you'd like, there are some key things you can do. Most credit scores are derived by looking at these five attributes. By understanding what makes up these five factors, you can begin to change your behavior to improve your credit scores.

1. Payment history: A good record of on-time payments will help increase your credit scores. Review your credit reports closely and regularly. Late payments and other negative marks typically remain on your credit reports for up to seven years from the date of first delinquency. If you do find a mistake, take the proper steps to correct it so you can increase your scores.

2. Credit account history: An established credit history makes you a less risky borrower. Keeping old accounts that you have paid off can also help because keep your debt-to-credit ratio more favorable. Think twice before closing old accounts before a loan application.

3. Outstanding debt: High balances in relation to your credit limits can lower your credit score. Aim for balances less than 35 percent of your total available credit. You can determine your debt-to-credit ratio by reviewing your credit report now.

4. Recent inquiries: When a lender or business checks your credit in response to an application, it causes a hard inquiry on your report and may result in a slight ding to your credit score, so apply for new credit in moderation. Remember, viewing your own report and score is counted as a soft inquiry and doesn't change the score one way or another.

5. Types of credit: A healthy credit profile has a balanced mix of credit accounts and loans. It shows you have paid bills in the past and know how to manage different types of credit obligations. By reviewing your current credit reports and learning what your three scores are, you'll set yourself up for financial success in the future. Visit www.transunion.com for more information.

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